“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.
3. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’
4. But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
5. Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple,
6. and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:‘ He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’
7. Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’
8. Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
9. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’
10. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’
11. Then the devil left Him and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.” Matthew 4:1-11
If we were to read all of Matthew we would notice that he uses this temptation narrative in three different ways.
1. The testing of Jesus recalls for the people the testing of the children of Israel in the wilderness. Two lessons can be learned from this line of interpretation.
First, what Israel faced in the wilderness God would require His Son to face much more in His Ministry. Second, where Israel failed, Jesus succeeds.
2. The story of the temptations becomes a model for all who would follow Jesus. We are all tested in one-way or another regarding our faith and trust in God.
3. Through the narrative God affirms what should be the correct understanding of Jesus as Messiah. He was not to be the military or political Savior the people sought, but the Savior of their hearts. (See Matthew 4:2; 6:13; 26:41; 27:42-43 for clues about how these three themes work)
To me developing an understanding that Jesus, unlike Israel, passed His test in the wilderness is important for our understanding of God’s grace. Notice Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness much the same as how God guided His people into and through the wilderness when they came out of Exodus. (Exodus 13:18, 21; 15:13, 22; Deuteronomy 8:2)
In fact the entire story of Jesus birth, going down to Egypt then returning and the persecution by Herod is setting us up for an understanding that Jesus is the one greater than Moses who has come to lead His people on a new Exodus. But, this Exodus is not to a particular place, the Promised Land, but to a change of heart and the blessings of salvation and redemption.
It is interesting that in the temptations Jesus quotes Deuteronomy three times and all of them are regarding commands that God gave to Israel and all three times the people failed to obey God while Jesus obeyed.
When we think of applying this passage today, we spend more time contemplating what Jesus’ victory over Satan models for us as well as what it says about the true character of Jesus’ mission.
Jewish teachers taught not only by word, but instructed by example in Jesus’ time. By including the story of Jesus’ temptation Matthew is presenting to us an illustration of what it means to be surrendered to God’s will through the example of Jesus living forty days and nights without eating.
John the Baptist, for example, was a living example of what it meant to live a sacrificial obedient life in the wilderness living only on locusts and honey, Jesus who fasts in the wilderness is even more so that example.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that our understanding of Jesus passing his tests in the wilderness is important to our understanding of God’s grace and I would like to elaborate a bit on that thought.
The Spirit had empowered Jesus for His rescue mission (3:16-17), now the Spirit leads Him into the wilderness to be tested. It is important for us to remember that testings in the Bible are not about God trying to fail us but instead about developing the strength to carry out mission.
Navy Seal training does weed out the people who are not able to accomplish what needs to be done, but what it is really all about is finding the people who can accomplish the tasks that lie ahead.
It is the same as testing in Scripture. Through testing we develop the strength and power to carry out God’s ministry here on earth. A mother who has lost a child and gone through the grieving and sorrow but still held onto their trust in God is the best person in the world to comfort another who has faced the same sorrow.
We can see our troubles as just that – troubles – or we can understand that through the storm we can come out stronger and closer to God than ever before. Everyone who is serious about following Jesus goes through trials and sorrows. We need to remember that it is not God being mean or vindictive; that is the realm of Satan, but through our suffering we learn to trust God.
Why can we trust God when we face terrible problems? Because Jesus suffered, the Father suffered and they still do for every person who has separated themselves from their love. They know suffering and they know love and long for you to let them hold you and comfort you in the storms.
Every person that God has called throughout Biblical history has had a time of testing. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Job, Peter and Paul come to mind immediately. And to this list we could add Samson, Manasseh, Elijah and a host of other characters who faced their own testing times in order to proclaim the word of the Lord to the lost. And if we really want to look into the lives of people who suffered indignity, embarrassment, shame and rejection because of their faith in God we need look no further than Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel.
If God is calling and empowering you to do something for Him (3:16-17) you will be tested and you can expect testing to commensurate with the seriousness of your call. Satan won’t come personally to tempt you on the same level as He did Jesus but he will use your circumstances to attack you.
Jesus victory in the wilderness showed that He had defeated Satan and that the evil one had no power or strength to destroy Jesus mission of redemption to this world. Jesus ability to stand firm when tested became the strength and assurance He needed to hang on Calvary’s cross.
You might be saying right now that testing is fine for Biblical prophets but I have no calling to ministry so why am I being tested? The truth is that through your testing you become a minister for Jesus in a unique way that no one who hasn’t suffered your pain could ever imagine.
As I mentioned earlier, a mother who has lost a child knows how to sympathize with another woman who has lost her child. A man who knows what it is like to lose a job and have to trust in God to get him through the hard times has a place in his heart for others who are going through the same thing, and the list goes on.
This new yearI pray that we all take advantage of what we have faced and suffered through in 2014 and use that knowledge and reliance upon Jesus to reach out to others who face similar problems. Christianity is personal and in order to be legitimate it needs to be more than a sermon once a week. It needs to reach into the lives of the broken and offer healing.
May 2015 be a wonderful year of ministry for each of us as God uses us to proclaim His love to a broken world.
* As the new year begins let us pray that it will mark the end of the persecution of Christians. Please take the time each day pray for these people who are suffering for their faith in Christ. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/